Year Released: 2014
Director: Dean DeBois
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill
(PG-13, 105 min.)
Genre: Action and Adventure, Animation, Kids and Family, Science Fiction and Fantasy
“Tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil.” –Thomas Mann
Like a trip to the petting zoo, the second installment of this animated fantasy cannot fail to enthrall the little ones. The dazzling visuals, with toothless dragons as cuddly as puppies, lure us into a world almost devoid of evil. Where the warrior ethos is harnessed as effectively as the dragon’s fiery breath.
It’s all so cute and reassuring, this promise of a brave new world where dragons, the proverbial enemy of medieval warriors, become puppy/kitten hybrids made even more adorable by the legendary Dreamworks touch.
How far have we come from the original children’s tales, like “Little Red Riding Hood,” which was used to instill the proper fear and obedience into the next generation?
Little Red Riding Hood is warned of the consequences of straying from the path, disobeying her parents, and taking the word of charming male strangers.
Sleeping Beauty, too, is warned against trusting outward packaging. The poor old lady gifting away her fruit is just a front for the wicked queen and her poison apple, a sly reference to the Garden of Eden tale.
Yes, there is certainly sexism and as well as some species stereotyping in these early tales, where wolves, stepmothers, and evil queens don’t make out too well, while there is always a prince charming to save the day. Even hapless Jack of beanstalk fame, does not get his comeuppance for trading the family cow for a handful of seed, ultimately redeeming his bargaining skills by facing down a giant and stealing his golden-egg-bearing goose. Disobedience for males seems acceptable risk-taking, for females something to be discouraged.
Modern animation has reversed course, with the power of sisterhood triumphant in Frozen. Similarly, in the How to Train Your Dragon franchise the goddess motif supplants the ancient Viking warrior code.
But is it a step too far? Yes, we don’t want to scare our children into submission, but isn’t it just as dangerous for them to see a world as safer than it is? Where proverbial enemies are just misunderstood munchkins, where a few moments of conflict resolution can upturn centuries of cultural tradition?
Moreover, the awareness of evil and the righteous resolve to fight it have been the touchstones for some of the best works of fantasy penned by Oxford professors H.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. The horrors of World War II and the realities of Nazi atrocities inform the conflicts of both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, especially the most famous of them, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, have as their premise the World War II evacuation of children from bomb-stricken London and their relocation to the English countryside. We not only see goodness and evil up front; we even perceive religious symbolism in the Christ figure lion, Aslan.
Nor does The Lion King – the high mark of animation in Different Drummer’s book – deny or diminish evil. The Hamlet /King Arthur composite features a murderous, throne-usurping uncle coupled with the Arthurian theme of restoring rightful kingship as scheming hyenas replace the evil Mordred and his sorceress mother, Morgan Le Fay of Aurthurian legend.
Harry Potter, whose quidditch games in the early books and films more than a little resemble the opening high flying dragon sheep snatch tournament in How to Train Your Dragon 2, only becomes darker and more “bay’d about with many enemies” as the series progresses to the ultimate battle.
So, forgive me if I feel a sense of unease, as we are encouraged to be as toothless as Hiccup’s Night Fury.
–An underlying agitation when the ice hearted Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” becomes the adorable Elsa, cursed with a power she finally learns to control.
–A palpable trepidation when fire breathing dragons are “kumbayaed” into loyalty and submission, and we are encouraged to enjoy Berk, our peaceful island of isolation, forgetting about Drago and his defeated Alpha dragon who slink away into the sea.
Forgotten foes who every realist knows will surface again.
As you can see, this review was written for the adults who transport and pay for the kiddies that munch their way through popcorn and candy at the price of gold. The same mommies and daddies, grandmas and grampas who usher the little ones to the bathroom and drinking fountain in unending cycles.
You deserve something for all that effort and cash outlay. Well, here it is.
Viking Blood Cocktail
Ingredients: (Makes a single drink)
1/8 cup aquavit
1/8 cup tia maria coffee liqueur
carbonated lemon-lime beverage
Pour Aquavit and tia maria over ice cubes in a highball glass. Fill with soda stir, and serve.